The judicious elixir of vast experience and deep knowledge embedded in a well-crafted book is potent gift. The recently published book Latinos in New York: Communities in Transition, edited by Sherrie Baver, Angelo Falcon, and Gabriel Haslip-Viera, is such a text.
The editors have compiled a rich and politically valuable text that will serve well students and ethnic and social justice activists. The sum of the various chapters combines an overarching historical backdrop of changing Latino political economic ethnic landscapes with a deep grasp of the place-based ethnic pluralism that defines New York’s emerging and fluid Latinidad. This difficult task is accomplished by dint of a sancocho of authors that include highly accomplished Latino scholars, political activists, and committed journalists.
This unique mélange of activist authors provides prospective readers with an updated map of Latino New York. With this goal in mind, the book is organized around three substantive and interrelated sections that critically address: long- and short-term historical context(s); selected case studies of major Spanish language ethnic groups; and a detailed discussion of the political economic backdrop and accompanying policy issues.
The insights offered throughout the text offer a timely incorporation of current scholarship that addresses the global and translational dimension of certain strands of ethnic identity, the pivotal role that Evangelicalism, and Pentecostalism play in the construction of immigrant communities, the distinct forms of group-based ethnic marginalization and political exclusion, and the crucial role that Puerto Rican social and political struggles – which have largely been ignored in the Latino immigrant scholarship – in framing and facilitating contemporary migrant social movements that aid and abet immigrant engagement.
The end result, at least for this reviewer, is an instructive manual of sorts that offers social justice activists a detailed overview of the distinct varieties and political commonalities that weave through global New York’s Latinidad. And in doing so, the intellectual and political dead-end that blurs ethnic differences by homogenizing and stereotyping our Newest New Yorkers, is critically unpacked and politically bracketed. Thus, opening a window for historically informed and politically meaningful engagement by New York’s first- and second-generation social justice immigrant activists.
The various chapters encompass a wide range of topics that draw politically from critical approaches that are historically informed by the collective and individual work of such diasporic actors as Jose Marti, Arturo Schomberg, Albizu Campos, the Young Lords, and young contemporary immigrant activists. While in the domain of scholarship, the essays are embedded and build upon the twentieth century contributions of Latino scholars associated with the demystifying analytics that emerged from Puerto Rican, Latin American, and ethnic studies centers. Consequently, old and the new intellectual and political traditions are reworked and combined in unique ways that address the harsh and difficult realities that mark New York’s Latino realities.
Moreover, an all-important bottom-up ethnic granularity is added to the volume by the contributions of activist journalists such as Javier Castano, Ed Morales, Walker Simon, and Rosalia Reyes. Their distinct approaches hark back to the early twentieth century immigrant journalistic tradition of politically committed and socially informed reporting that connects ethnic marginalization with place-based political struggles for social justice. In short, their respective and contemporary construction of journalistic knowledge speaks truth to power and provides a political voice to the voiceless.
Latinos in New York is an important and useful collective work that will serve social justice activists and socially aware students well as they confront the challenges from the nativist Trumpian attack on Latinos in particular and immigrants in general.
Arturo Ignacio Sánchez, Ph.D. is an urban planner and served for over 20 years as member of Community Board 3, Queens. He has taught at Barnard College, City University of New York, Columbia University, Cornell University, New York University, Pratt Institute, and various Latin American universities.